This article reports on students’ experiences of an access programme in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, namely, the BSc four-year programme (BFYP). The programme has a preparatory 18-month phase after which students join the mainstream programme. The aim of the article is to give a voice to students who enrolled in 2008 and are either still in the system or have successfully completed the degree programme. The authors identify three performance bands, namely: good, moderate and poor performers. They focus on the students’ experiences in the preparatory phase of the BFYP, reporting on their personal perceptions of the structure of the programme; on the challenges they faced; and their preparedness upon transition to the mainstream programme. The distinguishing feature of the article is that students’ experiences are reported on through the lens of the different performance bands, adding shades of intensity to the different perspectives. Whilst the structure and features of the BFYP were experienced positively by most students across the performance bands, the voice of the poor performing students emerged in the study, expressing their sense of frustration; their inability to cope; and their failure to identify their challenges and to seek assistance. The need to equip underperforming students more effectively in terms of academic and life skills was the key finding of the study and should be of interest to the wider audience of educators and counsellors involved in access programmes.